It’s been more than 15 years, but Robyn Byrd is drawing again.
Byrd, 37, is one of two women who last week accused John Kricfalusi, the creator of the influential cartoon “The Ren & Stimpy Show,” of grooming her for a sexual relationship when she was a minor in the 1990s.
In a report in BuzzFeed News and subsequent interviews with the New York Times, Byrd and Katie Rice, 36, said that the animator began to correspond with them when they were teenagers.
Byrd said that Kricfalusi, now 62, first began to write to her when she was 14. She had reached out to him after becoming enamored with his work and the idea of being an animator. When she was 16, she said, he flew her to Los Angeles, where she says he touched her genitals through her pajamas.
In the summer of 1997, she lived with him while working as an intern at his animation studio, Spumco. At the time, she said, she considered their relationship romantic, though it was often turbulent. She moved out of his house permanently in 2002. By that point, the act of drawing had become so associated with Kricfalusi for her that she had all but stopped doing it, she said.
Rice said that Kricfalusi also began hitting on her when she was underage.
He offered her a job when she was 18 and, once she was his employee, began sexually harassing her, she said, behavior that was aggravated by Byrd’s departure from his life.
“Ren & Stimpy,” one of Nickelodeon’s first original shows, ran for five seasons between 1991 and 1995, though Kricfalusi, who worked as its producer and director, left the show in 1992. (In 2014, he denied having been fired.)
With its edgy sense of humor, the show pushed the limits of what could be considered children’s television. It went on to influence the creators of proudly politically incorrect cartoons including “South Park” and “Rick and Morty.”
Kricfalusi did not answer phone calls seeking comment. A lawyer speaking on his behalf, Daniel R. Perlman, gave a statement in response to BuzzFeed.
“The 1990s were a time of mental and emotional fragility for Mr. Kricfalusi, especially after losing ‘Ren & Stimpy,’ his most prized creation,” the statement said. “For a brief time, 25 years ago, he had a 16-year-old girlfriend. Over the years John struggled with what were eventually diagnosed mental illnesses in 2008. To that point, for nearly three decades he had relied primarily on alcohol to self-medicate. Since that time he has worked feverishly on his mental health issues, and has been successful in stabilizing his life over the last decade. This achievement has allowed John the opportunity to grow and mature in ways he’d never had a chance at before.”
Perlman did not immediately respond to further questions about discrepancies between the timeline offered by his statement and the accounts of Byrd and Rice.
A spokeswoman for Nickelodeon declined to comment when asked about the allegations against Kricfalusi.
In an interview Monday, Byrd said she expected more women to come forward with claims about Kricfalusi. She and Rice were introduced to each other by Kricfalusi, who, Byrd said, later fostered a rivalry between them.
“He pitted us against each other and we hated each other,” she said. “It’s funny — I was only 19, but I thought, ‘He’s replacing me with a younger woman.’”
Rice agreed in a separate interview, saying, “We probably would have been best friends but he decided to make it a contest instead and played us against each other.”
But six years after Byrd left the animator for good, she and Rice began to correspond. They became friends and when Rice was approached by BuzzFeed, she and Byrd deliberated for several months before deciding to go on the record about Kricfalusi, she said.
“We have to do this,” Byrd recalled telling Rice. “Get your courage up. We’re just going to hold hands and jump off the cliff together.”
Until Friday morning there were two pictures of Kricfalusi hanging in Nickelodeon’s West Coast office in Burbank, California, including a portrait and a fabric banner that included an image of his face, according to a person at the network who was not authorized to speak. They were both taken down Friday.
Byrd said Monday that the publication of the BuzzFeed article had offered her a remarkable sense of catharsis and that she had received support from many people online. Her therapist has encouraged her to start drawing again, and she has set up an account with the payments platform Patreon so that her supporters can help her to pursue a craft she had thought she would never take up again.
“That was going to be my career and I just ran away in 2002,” she said. “But now this is happening.”
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